Businessman John Georges has in mind his own version of an October Surprise for Congressman Bobby Jindal -- a spectacular come-from-behind victory in the governor's race. If Georges succeeds, Jindal won't be the only one who's surprised.
The millionaire businessman-turned-candidate is single minded about his gubernatorial ambition, and he deserves credit for sticking to a game plan that goes squarely against his nature. Those who know Georges know that he is, well, not prone to holding his tongue. He has a lifelong passion for politics, which makes it virtually impossible to have a short conversation with him on that subject.
And for the past six months or so, that subject inevitably came 'round to his plan to run for governor, which he made official last week. Despite Georges' loquacious manner, he has refrained from excessive public comment, choosing instead to bide his time and then launch an intense media campaign after his official announcement.
"He's like a racehorse in the starting gate who can't wait to bust through and start running," says one campaign adviser. "But once he gets out of the gate, he'll run hard."
Georges' strategy seems well grounded in history. Many successful candidates for governor -- Mike Foster, Buddy Roemer and even Edwin Edwards -- were not early frontrunners. Foster and Roemer didn't begin to catch on with voters, in fact, until after Labor Day.
Louisiana voters often wait until the final month before catapulting a "new face" to the front of the pack -- and they just as often jettison one or more early leaders. Jindal came from relative obscurity four years ago against Kathleen Blanco, who defied the odds herself by not faltering in the final stages of the primary, despite her early frontrunner status.
Georges, 46, hopes to replicate that pattern this year. He has been looking at statewide surveys for years, and his read this time tells him that Jindal's early lead is soft. Both he and Jindal are Republicans, but Georges is self-financing nearly all of his campaign. Whatever amount Jindal raises, Georges can write a check and match him, dollar for dollar.
So who is this guy?
His ancestors came to America from Greece, and he has been extremely active in the Greek Orthodox Church as well as other civic and professional affairs. He took over his family business, Imperial Trading Co. of Harahan, while still in his 20s and built it into a $500-million-a-year food distribution giant. Since then, he has bought and built up other businesses, including AMA Distributors (which holds a gaming license for video poker machine distribution), Dolphin Marine International (offshore oil service boats), and various real estate ventures.
His political involvement has put him next to Democrats as well as Republicans at the local, state and national levels, many of whom he supported financially. He served on the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees all higher education in the state, from 1992 to 1999, and he has donated extensively to many civic and charitable causes. He also spent his own money promoting levee board reform.
The GOP spin machine, which is lock step behind Jindal, is quick to criticize Georges for his past associations with Democrats, casting him as something less than ideologically pure. He also will get hit hard for his gambling interests, which include a Mexican casino.
Georges has not returned fire yet, but you can count on that to change. At a minimum, he will portray himself as a businessman who has actually walked the walk of job creation, meeting payrolls, and all the other conservative values that come with significant experience in the private sector, where Jindal worked for less than two years -- as a consultant fresh out of college.
"Like many Louisianians, I am not satisfied with the choices for governor," Georges says in the press release announcing his candidacy.
He's counting on a lot of others feeling the same way. If he's right, he may just pull off his October Surprise. If he's wrong, his candidacy could be the political equivalent of vanity publishing.